Asiana crash: First passenger crash for South Korea's Asiana Airlines in 20 years

SEOUL (AFP) - Founded in 1988, Asiana Airlines has a very good safety record with Saturday's crash in San Francisco being its first fatal passenger jet accident in 20 years.

In the Seoul-based firm's worst-ever accident, a Boeing 737 crashed into a mountain in the southwest of South Korea in June 1993, killing 68 people.

Since then it has had only one fatal accident, which occurred when one of its Boeing 744 cargo planes crashed in waters off South Korea's southern island of Jeju in July 2011, killing a pilot and one crew.

Rival Korean Air suffered one of South Korea's worst aviation disasters when one of its Boeing 747 crashed in Guam in August 1997, killing 228 people.

Asiana was set up by South Korea's transport-oriented Kumho Asiana group to compete with flag carrier Korean Air and is now South Korea's number two airline.

With a fleet of 79 aircraft including 11 cargo planes, the company initially focused on short-haul routes to China and Japan while its bigger rival dominated flights to Europe and America.

But after being hit by high fuel costs and growing competition with budget carriers, Asiana has in recent years stepped up efforts to tap into more lucrative long-haul routes and has aggressively expanded its services to the United States.

In 2011 it made a US$1.8 billion (S$2.3 billion) order for six Airbus A380 superjumbos in a move also partly aimed at better competing against Korean Air in the key long-haul routes once the planes are delivered between 2014 and 2017.

Asiana currently flies to some 70 cities in 23 countries.

It employs some 9,000 workers and flew 15.9 million passengers last year.

The carrier posted annual revenue of 5.8 trillion won (S$6.4 billion) last year with a net profit of 62.5 billion won.